Those words stayed put, however. It seemed cruel to remind the male of what he had lived through. Ruhn knew too well the price that had had to be paid.

“My father was the opposite.” Saxton sat back as their plates were cleared. “I never wanted to be like him. I still do not.”

“He could not…accept you?”

“Merely not accepting me would have been a blessing. He hates me for who and what I am. He would rather I were dead. It didn’t used to be that way. But once my mahmen passed? Everything changed. I feel as though he went bad.”

“I am so sorry. But…forgive me, I thought the aristocracy was more…I don’t know what the word is…”

As Ruhn trailed off, Saxton nodded. “Oh, it’s permissible provided it is neither seen nor heard. When I refused to mate a female from an appropriate bloodline, Father kicked me out of the family, out of the house, out of the will. I was supposed to walk in his shoes, after all. Be a solicitor, take over the estate and finances. Procreate to produce the next generation of the glymera who deny what they really were—see, my father is gay. But in his opinion, which is the only one that matters in his world, he chose the proper way to mediate the proclivity—namely, cheating on my mahmen for their entire mating. Of course, she was tolerant of the arrangement. None of that messy sex stuff. In that regard, they were perfectly matched.”

“I am glad you did not mate a female you did not care for.”

“Me, too. What it cost me in terms of my family has been more than made up for by my being who I am without apology.”

“Do you think you would ever want young?”

Saxton took a sip of water to try to hide a sudden rush of emotion. “I just might. You know…I just might.”

“I never thought about it until I started to spend my time with Bitty. I like telling her the stories of her mahmen and me, and the family traditions we had, and the foods her granhmen made. The toys her grandfather made. They are all I have to give her, really, but she seems to truly want the stories. It makes me feel like I’m keeping my parents alive, her mahmen alive. I loved my family so much. Even more so now that I am in Bitty’s life.”

“You are a very good person, Ruhn. And I wish I’d grown up the way you did. We had all kinds of material things, but no emotional ties among the people living under that expansive roof.”

“When you are poor, all you have are the people in your life. Who they are and who they are to you? That is the wealth you have in the world. That is the wealth you pass down to the next generation. That is what I am giving to Bitty, and I am so grateful her new parents understand and accept me in her life.”

When the check came, Ruhn reached for it. “I have some money. As of three nights ago, Wrath has put me on the payroll and I feel as though I have earned it.”

“Well, I’ll have to thank you for the meal later tonight.”

Cue that blush. Oh, yes…that lovely blush.

After Ruhn took out some bills and placed them on the little plastic tray with the check, they both got up and walked through the maze of tables and other diners.

It felt good to be a part of the world, to be out with a lover he cared deeply for, to be eating and drinking, talking and walking, going to work and looking forward to coming home. Things seemed more vivid, the smells of the food, the sounds of the human talk…the sensation as Ruhn reached behind himself and Saxton took the palm that was offered, flesh on flesh, warmth magnified.

Outside, the cold was a welcome brisk kiss on the cheek instead of something to brace oneself against, and the slippery, partially salted walkway was a fun excuse to cling to Ruhn’s arm as around the corner they went together, to the alley that led to the back of the restaurant.

There, in the shadows, they kissed for the longest time, bodies straining for contact through winter clothes and scarves and gloves, the hours they were to be apart like an obstacle course to be surmounted.

“I’m going to go to Mistress Miniahna’s to check the house,” Ruhn said as they finally eased back.

“I shall go back there as soon as Wrath and I are finished.”

“Okay, then. See you soon.”

“I cannot wait.”

As Saxton closed his eyes to dematerialize, a barreling gust shot down between the restaurant and the card shop next door. But it might as well have been a light, tropical breeze.

Indeed, the rejuvenating warmth of new love brought spring to the whole world, no matter the calendar’s season.

Two hours of eating and drinking later, and Novo was ready to chew her own leg off to get out of Café Estrogen. Not that she ate. Or drank.

No, it was kind of like being at a zoo for Victoria’s Secret shoppers: As she stayed down at the loser end of the table, she watched the females play with their hair and get into debates over whether to have the ceviche something or another over the kale-rolled organic what-the-fuck.

She had to give her sister credit, though. Sophy was in her element, so solicitous of the others, leaning forward with a manicured hand to touch a thin forearm in inquiry: “Is that chicken all right? Do you need it done differently?”

Or something to that effect. And the females were just as treacle-icious back, all, “Oh, noooo, it’s fabulous. Really…even if it is underdone.”

To which Sophy would say, “I will get the waiter. I want this night to be perfect for you.”

“But you’re the bride!”

“You’re my best friend! I’m just soooo glad you’re here…”

Blah, blah, blah.

It was performance art at its best, and Novo knew the flip side to this bright and shiny silver dollar: At home, Sophy would deconstruct everything the other females were wearing, what they’d eaten, how their weight was, whether their hair was on fleek.

On fleek? What the hell did that mean?

A working definition seemed to involve hair extensions, four different shades of “natural” blond, and enough hair spray to turn them into a potential Roman candle. Other than that? She was working in the dark on that one.

At least this had to be almost over—

The four vampire males who approached from behind her wouldn’t have registered ordinarily. One of them, however, carried a scent she remembered all too well.

Her first instinct was to turn around and see if she was right, but Sophy’s eyes lit up and then she got to her stilettos and clasped her hands together as if she’d won the Sephora version of Powerball.

Of course Oskar had showed up.

Novo should have seen this coming.

Keeping her eyes down on her empty plate, she relied on her peripheral vision. He was still the same height, still wore that same cologne—but the clothes were different, skinny jeans and a black three-quarter hipster coat instead of the preppie khakis and North Face jacket he would have worn back in Novo’s era. Hair was longer and pulled back into a man-bun.

And he’d grown a beard.

And taken to wearing heavy black-rimmed glasses.

Dollars to donuts, she could guess who was responsible for this new “look.”

The three with him were variations on the evolved male, the one on the left going so far as to be wearing a WE’RE ALL FEMINISTS T-shirt over his turtleneck.

Not that being a feminist was a bad idea. Not at all. It was just Novo assumed sporting a pair of ovaries probably meant you had a little more skin in that game. But whatever.

On cue, the table went into girl-gasms at the new arrivals, everybody tittering, the smiles popping like glitter bombs, the laughter an overflow of mirth, as the males went and greeted their girlfriends or mates.

From her distance away from the hub, Novo decided screw it and focus on her old love. His face was stiff, she thought—but maybe she was reading into that. And he looked bored, although again, her own predilections could be assigning that to him—

Oskar took a step back and that was when his gaze swung around—and he did a double take.

Sophy noticed immediately and she covered up the calculation in her eye just as quick. With the broadest smile yet, she motioned down the way, clearly telling him to go greet her dearly beloved sister.

Oskar shoved his hands in his coat and walked forth with his head down, a dog who’d gotten its ass paddled with a newspaper for tearing something to pieces. When he came up to Novo, he cleared his throat.